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Excitement simmers for Game 1

Excitement simmers for Game 1

CHICAGO -- John Sobczak knew there was only one thing he wanted to do to celebrate his 30th birthday; on Tuesday afternoon, he did just that.

Huddled around a small, white, baseball-shaped grill, Sobczak and three of his friends, all decked out in White Sox attire, tailgated before the team's first playoff game since 2000. With beverages in hand, the group toasted not only their friend's birthday but to the success of the 2005 White Sox and what they hope will be more to come in October.

"We're huge fans and we wanted to get here early and celebrate the White Sox in the playoffs," Sobczak said. "And drink a little to my birthday, too."

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The four friends were just one group of the many White Sox fans that gathered early outside of U.S. Cellular Field as the White Sox prepared to take on the Boston Red Sox in Game 1 of the American League Division Series.

"We've waited five years to do this and we were going to make the most of this tailgate," said Sam Spiguzza, 44, of Crestwood, Ill.

Tailgating has become somewhat of a tradition for Spiguzza and his family, who come to every Tuesday home game during the season and make sure to bring the grill.

"I have three sons, ages 18, 16, and nine," Spiguzza said. "This is one of the only things that we really do together as a family anymore, but really, what could be better than baseball, good food and the company of friends?

Though it was all about the grilling and games for many fans, others chose to be more low key with their affair.

"We've got the more high-end tailgating going on here," Daniel Hallahan, 64, joked. "We've got the sandwiches and the drinks, but no grills like we usually have."

The higher-end affair may have been due to the fact that Hallahan brought his wife, Pam, along with several of his guy friends.

"I'm not always invited to these, but I sneak in when I can," Pam Hallahan, 61, said. "I guess the playoffs was a good time to join in."

Coming to Sox games has become a mainstay for the Hallahans, who have traveled across the country to watch baseball. That included spending a few weeks in Tuscon, Ariz., to follow the White Sox in Spring Training.

For Daniel, though, all the traveling can't beat moments like the one on Tuesday, when he gets to see his team play in October. It's not the first time the lifelong White Sox fan has been to a postseason game, and as he tailgated in the parking lot where the old Comiskey Park used to stand, his thoughts traveled back to the 1959 World Series, when Chicago last won a home playoff game.

"My cousin and I got tickets for Games 2 and 5 of that series in the outfield bleachers just behind center field," Hallahan said. "We skipped out of school and got into a little trouble when we showed up in a picture that ran in the paper."

Playing hooky may not be a worry anymore for the retiree, but there were many other fans nearby that blew off prior commitments to make sure they were a part of history. Scott Richards and some of his other co-workers stood around eating hot dogs and playing a game of bean bag toss on a midafternoon, when normally they would be preparing to end the day.

"We made plans to be here, so it's all good," Richards, 31, of Winnetka, Ill., said with a smile.

But with all the fun that Richards and the rest of the White Sox fans were having outside, they hope was that the day would be capped off in an even better way -- with a White Sox victory.

"I have confidence about today's game," Richards said. "A five-game winning streak is a great way to head into the playoffs, and, of course, it is Soxtober."

Kelly Thesier is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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